Episode #59: Leaving a Legacy: How Executives & Senior Leaders Can Fix the Leaky Pipeline for The Next Generation of Female Leadership
Hey Rebels!! I recently gave an International Women's Day talk for a group of executive women on Leaving a Legacy: How Executive & Senior Leaders Can Fix the Leaky Pipeline and Make Room for the Next Generation of Female Leaders. In my talk, I shared what women in positions of power and authority need to stop doing and what they should do instead to ensure there's another generation of female leaders to take their place. So, since you probably weren't there, I want to share some highlights with you here on the podcast because the women shared that it was excellent and a powerful reframe for them.
So let's first talk about why legacy matters.
Imagine years in the future a newly hired leader is walking through the halls of a successful company that has been in business for over 50 years. As she walks past the boardroom, she notices a portrait hanging on the wall of a woman she's never seen before because she's sure she remembers meeting all of the other women whose portraits are on the wall. She asks one of the staff who she is, and they tell her that she was one of the first female senior leaders in the company and that woman was you.
She goes on to share that you were not only a trailblazer but left behind a legacy that helped pave the way for future generations of female leaders like herself. That your dedication to creating opportunities for women in the workplace helped create a more inclusive culture within the company and that the impact you made in the company is still felt today.
Can you imagine that? How does it feel?
It may not feel probable in your current workplace or our current climate, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't aspire to make this story the norm and not the extraordinary.
The good news is that we've made significant progress over the past years, and in 2022 alone, we saw a 12% increase in women in the C-suite and on executive boards. Yeah, right?
The bad news is that's only a drop in the bucket because we still have a way to reach parity.
And not only are there not enough talented, skilled, early-career professional women making it to the next leadership level, but we also say the most significant drop in the percentage of women going from mid- to senior-level positions than we've seen in years. And this is from a Women in Leadership study IBM just released on March 1st of this year. So these numbers reflect the current state of affairs.
And when you couple that with McKinsey's 2022 report on women in the workplace, where they reported that we're in the midst of the "Great Breakup" with women leaving their companies in unprecedented numbers or switching jobs at the highest rates, we've seen, the impact on many organization's bottom lines and competitiveness in the open market are now in question.
When organizations can't even hold on to the female leaders they have, what does that say about the women following behind?
Another factor to consider in this mix is that late baby boomers and early X'ers are becoming eligible for retirement, so we have to consider if even 1% of the women in these populations leave the workforce (as they are now doing in record numbers), what will that means for the Millennials who are now anywhere between 26-42? And with studies showing there are more women in the US population by 2 to 1, and women are earning more undergraduate and graduate degrees than men, what impact will all of this have on an organization's reputation in the marketplace and their ability to attract and retain new female talent?
Finally, in the next 12 months, as many as 30% of women are planning to seek a new job, 30% are expected to leave their jobs temporarily to care for family, 27% are anticipating resigning for mental health or physical reasons, and 24% simply plan to leave the workforce permanently.
Considering companies with women executives outperform other companies by as much as 30%, I'd say we're at a check engine light moment. Both private and public sectors have to start doing something to create and leave a legacy of women that will protect the pipeline from further shocks and start fixing the leaks. A legacy that will promote inclusion, advance innovation, and ensure the long-term success and sustainability of organizations is what's needed today.
So how do we create a legacy? Well, as I always say, if you want something you've never had, you've got to do something you've never done. So let's start with what we need to stop doing. First, we must stop using the same approaches that are no longer proving effective. And while there may be singular instances of success, they're just not widespread or long-lasting to make the impact it needs to fix the pipeline.
For example, the way we do mentorship and sponsorship needs to change. We need to stop doing one-off training and awareness events. And rethink targeted hiring and ad hoc coaching without addressing the underlying need for both.
With regard to mentorship and sponsorships, a Harvard Business Review study with 3,000 professionals across industries revealed that only about half have ever had any mentoring in their careers, and among those who have, only 25% were formally assigned mentors. But the kicker is that most mentoring relationships continue to evolve organically and are not part of a formal program. Perhaps more disheartening, data on the outcomes of formal programs were at best mixed: while some reported that there was little benefit, let alone much meaningful engagement.
That's because we've seen over the years that there's a lack of commitment to these programs. Not enough resources, support, training, or time are allocated for them to be effective. So, as a result, most just evolve organically, as the report said, without any guidance or support. This brings me to the next challenge: there's not enough training for the mentor or mentee, so they're just making it up as they go along. Also, most relationships look like the mentor just tells the mentee what to do based on their experiences. AND if there's a lack of diversity or any unconscious bias, as there often is, even with the best intentions, sharing what worked for them won't have the same effect on the mentee, practically nullifying the relationship's effectiveness. And when there continue to be systemic barriers, like trying to climb a ladder with "broken rungs," effectively blocking the advancement of female leaders even with the best mentoring and sponsorships, they'll continue to prove ineffective.
One-off training and awareness events rarely account for the "forgetting curve," meaning we forget at least 80% of what we've learned after 30 days. And since the majority of time, money, and effort spent on training focuses on the delivery and not the follow-up, the over $100 billion spent on training in 2022 will have less than a 20% effectiveness rate. And that number drops significantly after three months.
These programs don't provide for spaced repetition that allows for continual implementation, re-engagement, and follow-up that needs to happen after training. Nor do they successfully utilize andragogy or adult experiential learning to enable daily application and integration of what's learned.
And the problem with targeted hiring and ad hoc coaching is that they fail to deal with the root cause for these types of initiatives.
For example, target hiring is a great idea, but a house built by giraffes won't ever really work for an elephant unless there are some significant changes. Meaning you want to get your house in order before you invite company. And that story is a nod to R. Roosevelt Thomas' work on equity and inclusion and the parable he wrote about the Giraffe and Elephant, which I'll share in the show notes.
And ad hoc coaching, which I call reactionary or corrective coaching, is only in reaction or response to a particular issue that often doesn't offer large-scale implications for the organization. And ad hoc coaching is usually provided when the organization has failed to implement its own policies and procedures correctly or expeditiously.
Listen, coaching should never be an ad hoc tactic. If you're trying to use it for those purposes, you don't understand what coaching is and how to use it appropriately. Instead, coaching, particularly in an organizational setting, should be a part of an at-scale leadership development system.
So what's missing? Based on our experience, we've discovered a lack of "forward-focused" solutions and peer-to-peer connections that ultimately impact retention and innovation. Organizations will have to break the deeply embedded patterns found in these programs and create a legacy system that will work in the current workplace climate. So if they're ready to settle into the long game and stop using short-term strategies at the expense of long-term talent development, there are three steps our company supports organizations with that will work to change the tide.
First, you want to reframe the narrative. Start with an internal communication strategy that supports the idea that gender equity and inclusion is not a women's issue but an organizational one and that it contributes to the organization's financial performance. Another critical narrative to communicate is that it's not a zero-sum game.
Study after study has already laid out the economic gains made by organizations with significant female leadership, so that's a clear message that gender equity is an organizational issue that can be supported with sufficient data points.
But the apparent nagging notion that even the most open-minded may support is that if a woman wins a seat, somehow a male loses. That was an important point the IBM report revealed.
So to overcome that notion, any gender equity initiative developed and rolled out must involve men and women as equal partners in overseeing strategic, enterprise-wide efforts to improve representation and to model desired behaviors. Reverse mentoring is a unique way for male leadership to see the many ways gender biases prevent themselves throughout the organization. This level of empathy can be a catalyst to motivate behavior changes and a different response to these efforts.
In addition, use learning experiences instead of special training programs. Expertly designed learning experiences can create lasting behavior changes by shifting underlying beliefs, assumptions, and emotions, creating a new legacy. In addition to reverse mentoring, peer-to-peer masterminds have proven very effective in organizations wanting to lower the attrition rates of female leadership and advance career mobility.
Finally, use coaching effectively and sustainably by making it part of the long-term talent development and learning experiences. Every CEO and leader needs to check their blind spots and embrace a broader set of steps required to close the gender gap, and ongoing coaching can help achieve that.
Remember, it's the long game organizations must be committed to achieving success. A study by the International Journal of Evidence-Based Coaching and Mentoring found that 75% of leaders saw the value of executive and leadership coaching as "considerably greater" or "far greater" than the money and time they invested into it.
Now when introducing innovative strategies, there may be some objections, usually around time, cost, and of course, the buy-in of leaders across the organization. But when you implement these strategies in a way that accounts for these objections, you'll find little to any pushback.
For example, when our company works with organizations on these change initiatives, we find that incorporating this work within the day-to-day responsibilities eliminates the time objection. In addition, when you integrate accountability mechanisms to make the implementation and development a part of their day-to-day as opposed to a singular long-term event, you get time back because you're using it more efficiently and effectively.
Concerning cost, many organizations have found that bringing in our organization saves them money because they're not paying for overhead but instead for impact and expertise. And since many L&D departments are stretched thin or may not have the expertise we bring to the table, it's a cost-saver all around.
And when it does to buy in, it's essential not to take an "out of the can" generic approach. Instead, when you're implementing a customized design based on the data and needs of the organization, followed by a strong communication plan with transparency and explicit support from senior leaders, it creates cognitive remodeling and buy-in.
Organizations have been trying to make strides in these areas (some obviously more than others like IBM), but because their focus was on short-term results rather than taking a long-term view, they're not getting the results they want, and in fact…things are getting worse. And they know it. According to a survey by Deloitte, 86% of leaders believe that developing next-generation leaders is an urgent or essential issue. It's time to create and leave a legacy.
Start sharing success stories from companies implementing similar programs and taking a stand that gender equality is an organizational issue, not a women's issue. Today, more than ever, leaving a legacy isn't just a nice to have but a must-have to ensure we fix that leaking pipeline.
Are you ready to leave a legacy in your organization? Take stock of what efforts are working and which are no longer effective. What can you start doing differently? What will it take to implement a future-focused approach?
Now's the time before it becomes too late.
That's why we're hosting an Executive Roundtable on this topic and inviting leaders from across the country to talk about strategies and best practices so leaders can hear what others are doing and support each other to create and leave a legacy for the next generation of female leaders. This is an invitation-only event, so email us if you're in a leadership position and want to attend. Our email is in the show notes.
And there you have it, Rebels. That's it for this episode, and I'll see you next time. Until then, have an amazingly rebellious week.